AuthorÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s note: Previously published in Ã¢â‚¬Å“The Hatchet: Lizzie BordenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Journal of Murder, Mystery, and Victorian History.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Denise NoeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Lizzie Whittlings: Elizabeth Montgomery
Actress Elizabeth Montgomery won a permanent place in the hearts of Borden buffs when she took on the part of Lizzie Borden in the made-for-TV movie, The Legend of Lizzie Borden. For a movie-of-the-week, it was unusually well made and engrossing.
Elizabeth Montgomery was the right actress for the part. For one thing, with her medium blonde hair and snub nose, Montgomery bore something of a resemblance to Lizzie. That was a definite advantage since LizzieÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s visage is so very well known. Equally important, as an actress Montgomery was able to convey a sense of entitlement and ladylike restraint while suggesting layers of possibly homicidal rage boiling beneath a controlled surface. Montgomery seemed utterly comfortable in the period clothing. She also appeared believable in the startling scenes in which she was supposed to be out of those clothes and in the nude! This ability to act in a role in which the character is riddled with contradictions was especially vital to The Legend of Lizzie Borden, as the movie was deliberately crafted to suggest a lingering mystery. The film would show scenes happening in cinematic Ã¢â‚¬Å“realityÃ¢â‚¬Â and its present tense, and then focus on Elizabeth MontgomeryÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s face to go into what might have been a flashback Ã¢â‚¬â€œ or a scene from LizzieÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s overheated imagination.
The woman who would so memorably play Lizzie Borden was born on 15 April 1933 in Los Angeles, California, into a show business family. Her father was the famous screen actor Robert Montgomery and her mother was the theater actress Elizabeth Bryan Allen.
According to findadeath.com, Elizabeth Montgomery liked being called Ã¢â‚¬Å“Lizzie.Ã¢â‚¬Â Often a shortened version of Elizabeth, Lizzie was Miss BordenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s actual name. Elizabeth MontgomeryÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s preference for the nickname provides an interesting link between her and Lizzie Borden.
Always an actress
Elizabeth Montgomery appears to have enjoyed a childhood that was both happy and privileged. The affluent Montgomery family split their time between Hollywood, New York State, and Great Britain. As a child, little Lizzie attended the Westlake School for Girls. According to a website called BobÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Bewitching Daughter Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Elizabeth Montgomery, Ã¢â‚¬Å“Her first acting role was at the age of five in a French language production of Little Red Riding Hood at the Westlake School; Elizabeth played the wolf.Ã¢â‚¬Â
The family moved to New York City in 1950 where her father began his television series Robert Montgomery Presents. Unfortunately, the public triumph coincided with personal upheaval as Robert Montgomery and Elizabeth Bryan Allen divorced in December of that same year. After the divorce, the young Elizabeth Montgomery lived first with her mother and then with her father. She entered the Spence School, a college-prep institution exclusively for females, and then went to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. She attended the Academy before making her television debut in 1951, in her fatherÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s series. She appeared in an episode called Ã¢â‚¬Å“Top SecretÃ¢â‚¬Â in which Robert and Elizabeth Montgomery played a fictional father and daughter. By 1952, she was a member of the summer stock company on Robert Montgomery Presents.
The young Elizabeth Montgomery worried about being known primarily as Robert MontgomeryÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s daughter. She wanted to be seen and evaluated as an actress in her own right. She thought that perhaps she should change her last name in order to establish a truly independent identity in her career and mentioned this possibility to her father. Clearly disappointed, he asked, Ã¢â‚¬Å“WhatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the matter, you ashamed?Ã¢â‚¬Â She kept the Montgomery last name on her acting credits and would throughout her life.
In March of 1954, she married Frederic Gallatin Cammann. Cammann came from a family that was both wealthy and socially prominent. The Social Register dropped him from its roster for marrying an actress.The couple divorced in 1955.
In December of 1956, at the age of twenty-three, Elizabeth Montgomery wed actor Gig Young, who was forty-three at the time. Perhaps she felt this marriage would have more going for it than the previous one since they shared the same profession. If so, she was sadly mistaken. Gig Young was a heavy drinker and the union was marred by the problems associated with a partnerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s boozing.
During this period in which her personal life was turbulent, Montgomery racked up professional accomplishments as a busy, working actress. She worked mostly in television. She appeared in the popular series The Untouchables and was nominated for an Emmy for her performance. It was the first of nine Emmy nominations she would receive although she never won the award.
Montgomery played in a feature film called Johnny Cool in 1963. While making that movie, she developed a romantic relationship with director William Asher. She soon divorced Young and married Asher.
It may have been lucky for Montgomery that she dissolved the union with Young when she did and especially lucky that she did so without physical violence. The troubled Gig Young would marry thirty-one year old Kim Schmidt in 1978, when he was sixty-five. Three weeks after they wed, Gig shot Schmidt to death and then turned the gun on himself and committed suicide.
Having worked as an actress all of her life, Montgomery told Asher she would like to abandon her career in favor of full-time homemaking and to have children. Asher was in favor of the couple having kids but preferred that she continue acting if the two of them could find a way to work together. He soon found the perfect vehicle for that purpose, a sitcom that he would direct and in which she would star.
Bewitched and a trademark twitch
The premise of Bewitched was a variant on the fish-out-of-water theme that has proved so resiliently effective in comedies. The television sitcom was inspired by two motion pictures, the 1942 I Married a Witch and the 1959 Bell, Book, and Candle. Both films were comedic fantasies about mortal men falling in love with good-hearted witches.
In the TV show Bewitched, Elizabeth Montgomery starred as the witch Samantha, the wife of mortal ad executive Darrin Stephens (first played by Dick York and then by Dick Sargent who replaced the former because a back injury left York unable to work). Samantha tries to settle down into the life of a middle-class suburban housewife and resolves to leave witchcraft behind. However, she always ended up using her special powers that could be both the source of humorous jams and her secret weapon to get out of them.
Elizabeth MontgomeryÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s winsome portrayal of the wholesome witch was a major reason for the programÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s success. Another was the strong support her character received from the other cast members. Actress Agnes Moorehead brought a vinegary tang to her depiction of SamanthaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s mother, Endora (so named after the Biblical witch of Endor). EndoraÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s powers of sorcery gave the role a special punch as she played a classically interfering mother-in-law who thought her son-in-law was not good enough for her daughter.
Despite the strong fantasy elements to the program, many viewers could undoubtedly relate to the bickering when Endora archly asserted, Ã¢â‚¬Å“Samantha, I will not stand here and be insulted by something which is 94 percent waterÃ¢â‚¬Â and Darrin replied, Ã¢â‚¬Å“Oh, yeah! Well, what about something which is a hundred percent hot air?Ã¢â‚¬Â
The role of each member of SamanthaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s supernaturally gifted family was sharply etched and played in a distinctive manner. Comedian Paul Lynde, as wizard Uncle Arthur, possessed a colorful sense of mischief. Marion Lorne was sweet and somewhat pitiful as Aunt Clara, the witch who never could quite get a spell right.
Elizabeth Montgomery sometimes branched out within the series itself, donning a black wig to play SamanthaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s cousin Serena, a naughty witch who contrasted with SamanthaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s nice witch.
SamanthaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s trademark would be the supposed twitching of her nose that signaled that she was using her magic powers. It was actually the twitching of her upper lip that, in turn, moved her nose. Montgomery had a habit of twitching her upper lip when she was nervous. Asher decided to make this the sign that Samantha was using magic.
The cast of mortal characters was just as strongly defined as that of the witches. Both York and Sargent were excellent as the loving, well-meaning, and frequently exasperated Darrin. David White was friendly but suitably demanding as DarrinÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s boss. Perhaps the most vivid mortal character was Gladys Kravitz, first played by Alice Pearce and then by Sandra Gould. Both actresses did a fine job of portraying this nosy neighbor who is certain that something very odd is going on in the Stephens house but can never manage to get anyone else to see what she has seen or believe what she says. It is an arresting comedic moment when Samantha asks Gladys Kravitz why she has come to the Stephens house and Kravitz replies, Ã¢â‚¬Å“I came over for a snoop, uh, a scoop of sugar.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Bewitched was a program that could be enjoyed by the entire family with little fear that youngsters would be exposed to anything inappropriate. Interestingly, however, the show broke new ground in its depiction of marital intimacy by showing Darrin and Samantha sleeping in the same bed. Prior to the Stephenses, most TV married couples had slept in separate beds.
While Elizabeth Montgomery never left acting behind for full-time homemaking as she had once planned, she did realize her goal of having children. She was pregnant with her first child while the Bewitched pilot was filmed, and gave birth to William Allen Asher in 1964. Her next two pregnancies were incorporated into Bewitched storylines. Elizabeth Montgomery gave birth to Robert Deverell Asher in 1965, and Tabitha Stephens was born around that same time. When Montgomery delivered Rebecca Elizabeth Asher in 1969, Samantha Stephens brought forth Adam Stephens.
Bewitched enjoyed a very good run before its cancellation in 1972, and is fondly remembered by many fans decades after its demise.
Dramatic successes in twenty-two TV movies
Like many stars of hit programs, Montgomery did not want to be typecast. She steadfastly refused to twitch her upper lip and nose for fans after Bewitched went off the air.
She also tried to stretch her acting wings by eschewing comedy for drama. She appeared in several made-for-TV movies with a dramatic bent. In 1972, she played in the TV movie The Victim. It is a claustrophobic, creepy suspense movie in which Montgomery plays Kate Wainwright, a wealthy woman trapped in a house during a storm. The electricity and phone have gone out, a murderer has done in her sister, and Kate desperately tries to avoid being his next victim.
That same year of 1972, the ten-year marriage with Asher unraveled and the couple divorced in 1973.
While making another TV movie, Mrs. Sundance, in 1974, she met actor Robert Foxworth. The two were soon in a romantic relationship. Having had three marriages end in divorce may have left Montgomery reluctant to wed again. She and Foxworth soon began cohabiting.
She starred in the 1974 A Case of Rape. Like Samantha Stephens, Ellen Harrod, the character played by Montgomery, is a suburban housewife. But A Case of Rape was no humorous fantasyÃ¢â‚¬â€it was an extremely serious movie that treated this sensitive subject in a manner that was compelling.
The Legend of Lizzie Borden in 1975, the extraordinary made-for-TV movie that has become a favorite among Borden aficionados, followed it.
This fine actress continued working for many years but took a hiatus from her profession in the mid-1980s. She returned to acting in 1990 with Face to Face, in which she played archeologist Dr. Diana Firestone, opposite her lover Robert Foxworth.
After cohabiting together for almost twenty years, Montgomery and Foxworth decided to marry. They wed on 28 January 1993.
In 1995, Montgomery was working on a television movie, called Deadline for Murder: From the Files of Edna Buchanan, when she started feeling constantly tired. At first, the actress believed that she must be fatigued from overwork. Later, she realized that she was really sick and went to a doctor. The physician diagnosed Montgomery as having colon cancer. Exploratory surgery showed that the cancer had spread to her liver.
Normally a slim, but healthy, 122 pounds, she had wasted away to only 82 pounds when she went into the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center on 8 May 1995. Physicians were unable to stop the merciless spread of the cancer. Morphine helped control the pain. She was discharged on May 15 and returned to her Benedict Canyon home.
According to findadeath.com, she and Foxworth Ã¢â‚¬Å“embraced, and she drifted off, never to wake again. Elizabeth Montgomery died quietly, alone, on May 18th.Ã¢â‚¬Â She was sixty-two.
Elizabeth MontgomeryÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s legacy
Her body was cremated. At her memorial service, held on 18 June 1995, Amanda McBroom sang. She may have been chosen to sing, in part, because her last name seemed to pay tribute to the role for which Montgomery was best known. MontgomeryÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s image was displayed on a screen and those assembled gave the deceased actress a standing ovation.
Today, a nine-foot high bronze statue of Montgomery as Samantha, astride a broomstick, graces a park in Salem, Massachusetts, the home of the infamous 17th Century witch trials.
Massachusetts is also, of course, the home of the Borden murders. In his summation for Lizzie Borden at her trial, Governor Robinson would refer to the Salem tragedy of two centuries before when he told the jury that acquittal would show that Ã¢â‚¬Å“witches are out of fashion in Massachusetts.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ironically, in the century after that acquittal, the talented actress who fashioned herself into a sweetly adorable witch would also craft herself into an utterly enthralling Lizzie Borden.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Bell, Book, and Candle,Ã¢â‚¬Â http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0051406.
BobÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Bewitching Daughter Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Elizabeth Montgomery, http://www.bobsbewitchingdaughter.com.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“A Case of Rape,Ã¢â‚¬Â http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0071286.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Deadline for Murder: From the Files of Edna Buchanan,Ã¢â‚¬Â http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0112821.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Elizabeth Montgomery,Ã¢â‚¬Â http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000548.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Elizabeth Montgomery and the cast of Bewitched, http://www.findadeath.com.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Face to Face,Ã¢â‚¬Â http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0099535.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Gig Young,Ã¢â‚¬Â http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0949574.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I Married a Witch,Ã¢â‚¬Â http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0034881.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Legend of Lizzie Borden,Ã¢â‚¬Â http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0073273.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“The Victim,Ã¢â‚¬Â http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0069461.